For Rockets, pushing Parsons to early free agency suddenly makes sense
Given Houston’s new contender status, the Rockets might be best served by making Chandler Parsons a free agent next summer.
Restricted in 2014, or unrestricted in 2015?
That’s the Rockets’ dilemma with the future of Chandler Parsons, as outlined in April by our own David Weiner. The 2014 scenario, which means declining Chandler’s option for 2014-15 and allowing him to hit restricted free agency, would give the Rockets the right to match any outside offer and likely result in a more team-friendly contract.
Meanwhile, the 2015 route would offer future cap flexibility by giving Houston two more seasons of cheap labor (sub-$1 million) from Parsons along with a miniscule July 2015 cap hold of $1.8 million.
From a broad standpoint, both have their pros and cons — and before the arrival of Dwight Howard, I was leaning to the 2015 scenario. But with a second foundational piece in place, it seems likely that Parsons could hit the open market via restricted free agency next summer. Here’s why:
The Rockets should acquire more key players before mid-2015
Before Howard’s arrival, the thought was that July 2015 could be another opportunity for the Rockets to add a max player, given the expiring contracts of Jeremy Lin, Omer Asik and most others on the current roster. But for a contender, cap flexibility has a price. Look at Mark Cuban and the Mavericks, who had to dismantle their 2011 championship team in order to have max-level flexibility.
With Howard and James Harden locked in, the Rockets have over $38 million in guaranteed 2015-16 salaries just between those two. Let’s hypothetically add in a $1.8 million cap hold for Parsons, then minimum cap holds ($500K each) for the other nine roster spots, totaling about $6.3 million. That’s $44.3 million in committed salary in July 2015, even if the Rockets apply a Cuban-esque philosophy of no extensions and no signings beyond a year.
The salary cap was at $58.6 million this summer. Let’s assume a modest increase to around $62 million by July 2015, giving the Rockets just over $17 million in cap room in the most optimistic scenario. That means that over the next two years, acquiring or extending even one player with a contract beyond 2015 would take the Rockets below max room, thus defeating most of the purpose.
With the Rockets now a contender and firmly in “win now” mode, I expect further acquisitions to happen. I think Daryl Morey will use the full mid-level exception (MLE) to bring in talent next summer. I expect that Asik will ultimately be moved in a package for a power forward, by February 2015 at the latest. I assume the Rockets will be as aggressive as they can to immediately build the best supporting cast, which probably means bringing in players with contracts beyond 2015. In turn, the importance of “cap flexibility” will be somewhat reduced as it pertains to the timing of Parsons’ deal.
Daryl Morey owns restricted free agency
Just ask Kyle Lowry and the rest of the NBA. The centerpiece to the Harden deal was the innovative “guaranteed lottery pick” that Morey acquired from Toronto. Why did the Raptors give it up? Because Lowry was a good starter on an extremely-friendly contract, which Morey set the terms for by leveraging Lowry’s restricted status and allowing Cleveland to “set the market” in July 2010.
(It could be noted that the Rockets re-signed Luis Scola, also a restricted free agent that same summer, to a four-year deal with a partially guaranteed fifth year. While Scola’s faster-than-expected decline led to his eventual amnesty, most considered it a fair market deal at the time.)
Quite simply, if rival teams believe their offer to a restricted free agent will be matched, they’re less likely to make an offer in the first place. Many aren’t willing to tie up their free-agent money for up to two weeks (at least part of the 10-day moratorium, plus the 72-hour period after signing the offer sheet) over a low probability. That leads to fewer teams in the market for that player, and ultimately a lower contract based on reduced competition.
It worked for the Rockets with Lowry, who ended up signing a four-year deal for just above MLE money, and it could help with Parsons as well. At the least, the deal would be on friendlier terms for the Rockets than if Parsons hit the market as an unrestricted free agent in July 2015.
Lin, Asik processes unlikely to be repeated with Parsons
It is true that Lin and Asik jumped teams as restricted free agents, but their situations were not comparable to the one with Parsons. The reason the “poison pill” approach worked on the Knicks when Jeremy Lin was restricted is because New York didn’t have Lin’s full Bird rights. The most the Knicks could offer was a four-year, MLE deal (about $24 million). Both sides knew Lin had to go elsewhere to sign a richer offer sheet, even though Lin planned to return and the Knicks intended to match any offer. Then, of course, Morey added the steep third-year increase, and New York balked.
It’s different with Parsons because he will have been under the same contract in Houston for three seasons, thus giving the Rockets full Bird rights and allowing them to exceed the salary cap to re-sign him at any amount. Likewise, because of his tenure, Parsons is not subject to the “Gilbert Arenas rule” that Lin and Asik were, which allowed those offer sheets.
In the end, Parsons — unlike Lin — doesn’t need to sign elsewhere to get above-MLE money. If he wants to stay in Houston, as it appears he does, he and new agent Dan Fegan can shop themselves to the rest of the league and then take the best offer back to the Rockets. Houston could then offer the same “total value” deal itself and without any poison pill, trade kicker or other tomfoolery.
The Boozer risk
Yes, it’s possible that making Parsons a restricted free agent could expose the Rockets to a situation in which another team offers him a ludicrously large contract, much like Utah with Carlos Boozer after Cleveland allowed Boozer to prematurely exit his original contract during the summer of 2004. But that risk could be even greater should Parsons become an unrestricted free agent in July 2015 and engage in a true “bidding war” format. There are no guarantees in free agency, even restricted, but Morey’s ability to relentlessly tell the league that he can and will match all offers (as he did with Lowry and Scola) seems likely to scare away the most intense poachers.
Would Chandler still be happy if the Rockets play hardball?
Probably. While he’d ultimately get a richer “total value” deal if he waited until 2015, a deal in 2014 would substantially boost his 2014-15 salary from $964,000 to somewhere in the neighborhood of $7 million. That would likely offset any loss in overall value and keep both he and Fegan on good terms with club management. Morey and owner Les Alexander could frame the negotiations as a “reward” for Parsons, since they would be giving him a rich contract a year earlier than required.
What if Parsons is ultimately trade bait?
There’s a theory in some Rockets’ fan circles — one that I don’t agree with — that Parsons will ultimately be traded once he becomes too expensive. The logic is to either save Les Alexander a steep luxury tax bill or to eventually package Parsons in a deal for a third All-Star piece.
Even under that hypothetical, my guess is that Parsons is more desirable on a fair long-term contract than a short-term deal at $1 million. Teams won’t trade significant value for a young, Fegan-controlled player entering unrestricted free agency. The risk is too high. But if Parsons signs a reasonable deal (4 years, $30 million?), his market value could be comparable to Lowry’s or even better.
So if not via free agency, how do the Rockets get a third star?
The ideal route is for Parsons or Lin to develop into one. But even if neither does, a package of Asik/Lin, prospects and draft picks isn’t a bad trade offer, especially if the player in question (LaMarcus Aldridge?) is pulling strings behind the scenes to leverage his way to Houston. See Dwight Howard’s August 2012 trade to the Lakers as a primary example of how much power superstars can ultimately wield, even when they’re under contract.
The bottom line is that with two All-Star talents in the fold, the price of retaining cap flexibility is likely too high. The Rockets are in contending mode and will do everything they can to immediately build a championship supporting cast around Harden and Howard. In the case of Parsons, that means finding the most team-friendly contract possible, which probably comes via restricted free agency.
Mike D’Antoni: The Rockets isolation offense wasn’t pretty, but it was effective
Former Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni made an appearance on the Thinking Basketball podcast to discuss his career, and he went into his stretch with the Houston Rockets (2016-2020).
One of the big topics discussed was the isolation sets that the Rockets ran often and why they did it.
“If that one-on-one was not efficient, we wouldn’t do it,” said D’Antoni. “But it was doing, if I’m not mistaken, 1.2-something (points per possession) ridiculous. 1.16, for a long time, was the standard of the best offense an NBA team had. We kind of blew that out of the water a little bit (at) 1.20, but our isolation game was like 1.25, 1.24, so it was like — why wouldn’t we isolate?”
The former Rockets coach admitted it was not the most pleasing offense to the eye.
“People don’t like it,” said D’Antoni. “Aesthetically it’s not good. I don’t love it. I would rather pass the ball around. And if I had a team that didn’t have James Harden, guess what? We’d be passing the ball around… It wasn’t pretty. People can complain. But when you have the most efficient offense in NBA history, or close to it, why wouldn’t you do it? Just because you want to look pretty?”
D’Antoni talked about how good the Rockets second units were in the 2017-18 season because of Chris Paul, citing how often the Rockets boosted their lead or turned a deficit into an advantage when they turned to the bench.
“Chris was just a maestro at running our offense, and doing it a little bit (Steve) Nash-like,” said D’Antoni. “Harden had to do it like Harden did it, but both of them were good. Both of them were perfect.”
D’Antoni said part of the reason for the iso sets was he wanted to maximize James Harden and make him “the best player he can possibly be.”
“James is one of the smartest players — and there are a bunch of them — that I ever coached,” said D’Antoni. “I thought probably two or three years there, he had a complete mastery of the game. He went over 50 I don’t know how many times in a row. We were banged up one night and I said, ‘James, you might have to get 50 tonight for us to even have a chance to win.’ He gets 60 and we win. Stuff like that. He was able to do stuff (that)… just a mastery of the game.”
On how close the Rockets were to winning a title, said D’Antoni, “I thought we had it, the third year until Chris went down. Maybe not. Who knows, because Golden State had hearts of champions. Those guys are hard to beat. But I thought we had a good chance at it, that’s for sure.”
Why Alperen Sengun will come off the bench
With Bruno Fernando expected to start, here’s the plan for the Rockets second-year center
When the Rockets traded Christian Wood, it was crystal clear that Alperen Şengün was the new starting center for the Houston Rockets.
As we’re on the cusp of the Rockets 2022-23 season opener, there’s only one problem — he’s not.
Bruno Fernando is expected to get the starting nod at the five for the Rockets, leaving many to wonder why the second-year center out of Turkey is coming off the bench.
There are a couple reasons why.
First, the Rockets are trying to optimize their prospects, putting them each in the best position to succeed. In the case of Sengun, they want to leverage his passing skillset by making him an offensive hub. That’s difficult to do when you have ball-dominant guards in Jalen Green and Kevin Porter Jr., who thrive out of isolation and are trying to make progress leading pick-and-rolls.
Fernando is a much more limited player, but he fits better right now with the starters because he screens/rolls hard and plays above the rim as an alleyoop threat — it’s been fairly apparent in the preseason how the guards use him. While not a great defender, Fernando also is more of a rim protector than Sengun.
Secondly, Sengun needs to adapt more to the NBA game. The Rockets very much believe in his prospects — he’s only 20 years old — and they still consider him the best five on the roster. But the NBA is a much different game than EuroBasket, which is where he spent more of his offseason focus. The days of just dumping the ball into a post player seem to be dwindling in the NBA. He’s got to get quicker, stronger, tougher — but most important of all, he’s got to shoot the ball better from range.
In a culture where coming off the “bench” is considered a demerit (it shouldn’t be), you have to explain the reasons why — but keep in mind, his minutes will still be significant. I expect he will likely get in the 24-26 range this year, an increase over the 20.7 he got last season. He’s still going to have plenty of opportunity to develop.
My two cents: I give the Rockets props for doing this so early. It’s been apparent to me that the Rockets have multiple players who would be considered secondary playmakers, and to maximize their skills, they need the ball in their hands (imagine if the Rockets drafted Paolo Banchero … grateful every day that Jabari fell to #3!). This hopefully allows for that. Playing Sengun off the bench gives you an opportunity to play a variety of ways and also covers up a current deficiency at backup point guard.
I don’t want to watch Sengun follow the guards around — I want to watch peak Sengun running offensive sets.
Overall, I like it — let’s get the season going.
Rockets extend Kevin Porter Jr. to incredibly team-friendly deal
What’s being reported as a four-year, $82M extension is actually a one-year, $15.8M extension with full club control
Today was the deadline for the Rockets to extend Kevin Porter Jr. The Rockets have had an offer extended to KPJ for some time and the word behind the scenes was it was likely this day would come and go without a deal.
That changed in a hurry Monday morning.
The Rockets and KPJ agreed on a reported four-year, $82 million extension — at least, that was the initial report.
In truth, the deal is not that at all and is more the spin of an agent. Only the first year of the deal, at just $15.9 million, is guaranteed. The Rockets have until June 30, 2024 to decide if they want to pick up the two following years (2024-25 and 2025-26).
It’s clear KPJ accepted the Rockets longstanding offer because it is one extremely team-friendly deal.
What's being reported: KPJ signed a four-year, $82M deal extension.
What actually happened: KPJ signed a one-year, $15.8M extension.
Rockets have two years to watch KPJ's progress and decide if they want to pick up an additional two-year extension or not.
— ClutchFans (@clutchfans) October 17, 2022
“We value the player and the person that Scoot is becoming and are eager to invest in him and his journey,” said Rockets General Manager Rafael Stone. “He’s expressed how happy he is to be with this organization and has shown his commitment to putting in the work both on and off the court. We are excited for the opportunity to continue to build something special with him.”
In essence, the structure of this contract fully acknowledges the risks associated with betting on KPJ. It’s not the money you’re giving him — it’s the years. If you give him a long-term deal with fully guaranteed money and things go south, that is an unmovable contract — a cardinal sin to give out when your rebuild is going so phenomenally well after the drafting of Jalen Green and Jabari Smith Jr.
This deal reflects that risk and comes close to eliminating it. The Rockets control all the upside. If KPJ pans out beautifully, they can extend him — it’s 100% their decision. If he doesn’t pan out or the roster/core shifts in an unexpected way — such as being in position to draft Scoot Henderson — KPJ could be a large expiring contract next season.
The Rockets basically signed KPJ to the Sam Hinkie Special (contracts you saw with Chandler Parsons, Jae’Sean Tate and KJ Martin), but with much bigger dollar figures.
For KPJ’s part, there is a small win — he’s gets almost $16 million next season and is signed for this season ($3.2M) and next. He doesn’t have to worry about the finances as much while still staying highly motivated to play well. He didn’t fully bet on himself and take this to restricted free agency, but he did still take a deal that incentivizes him to earn it. But this deal isn’t in the same stratosphere as the ones you saw signed by Tyler Herro and Jordan Poole.
The bottom line: There are risks to signing KPJ that were mitigated by this unique contract structure. If you are a fan of the Rockets remaining flexible as they strive to build a contender, you should be thrilled with this. Big win for Stone and the Houston front office.
KJ Martin reportedly drawing interest on trade market
Rockets have had “ongoing talks” with Phoenix Suns about the third-year forward
According to Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports, the Phoenix Suns have had “ongoing talks” about acquiring Rockets forward KJ Martin while Portland and Miami are “two other known teams with interest in Martin.”
There has been talk of trading KJ since before the summer when his father, former NBA All-Star Kenyon Martin, reportedly sought a trade for his son. With the Rockets holding multiple picks in the draft, it appeared the writing was on the wall for reduced minutes for KJ.
Martin has looked like a trusted member of Stephen Silas’ rotation so far in preseason. KJ has played in all three games, averaging 11.0 points and 4.0 rebounds in 26.0 minutes, hitting 5-11 from deep.
At the same time, Jabari Smith Jr. is the future, Jae’Sean Tate seems to be the coaching staff darling and Tari Eason has exploded onto the scene. Minutes for KJ could be available but they will be hard to come by.
If the Rockets are going to trade KJ, what should be the asking price? My feeling is a “good” second-round pick (one that could be expected to be in the 31-42 range) would be the goal. If the Rockets were offered a lottery-protected first-round pick, I think that would be a steal right now for Houston.
What could make more sense is if the Rockets combined KJ Martin with a player like Eric Gordon, especially given the goals of suitors like the Suns, Blazers and Heat.
Jabari Smith steals show in Rockets preseason opener
The Rockets rookie is legit as we take a look at what else stood out in Houston’s preseason rout of the Spurs
Finally, Rocketball is back — the Rockets destroyed the San Antonio Spurs 134-96 in the preseason opener Sunday night.
Granted, the Spurs look flat out terrible (the top contender for Wembanyama?) and may finish dead last (and it showed), but there were a number of things that played out in this game that should get Houston fans excited.
But before I get into that, I want to give a huge shout out to everyone who supported RocketsWatch Sunday night. We are watching and discussing Rockets games in realtime this season and the debut was overwhelming. There were over 700+ fans watching the game with Roosh Williams and I in what might be the largest online watch party ever for a Rockets game. The live reactions from the fans were priceless!
Let’s talk about what stood out in this game:
Jabari is the real deal
Going into Sunday night’s preseason opener for the Rockets, the biggest question on the minds of fans was simple — how will #3 overall pick Jabari Smith Jr. look in his first NBA action?
The answer is good. Really good.
Jabari threw down a dunk out of the gate and then locked in on high-energy defense on the other end and right away you knew — the Christian Wood Era was over. Jabari’s impact was immediate on both ends of the floor. Smith finished with 21 points on 8-15 shooting, including a blistering 5-8 from deep, to go with eight rebounds in 24 minutes.
Jabari described himself as “a lot more loose” than he was at Summer League, when he struggled to knock down his shots.
“It was easy,” said Jabari. “My teammates made it easy for me, finding me when I was open. The rest just came from knocking down shots, running the floor, trusting the offense and trusting my teammates.”
What most impressed me was how quick of a trigger Jabari had on the catch-and-shoot. He would receive a pass out of the post or a cross-court pass in the corner and would instantly let it fly, shooting easily over his defender’s reach. This trait stood out and was very Klay Thompson-esque. In the second half, Jabari hit a pull-up triple in transition (his fourth) that was very enticing, then absolutely slayed those of us in the RocketsWatch room when he took two long strides back from the free throw line to drain another triple.
At that point, it was official — the rookie was clowning the Spurs. I can’t tell you how thrilled I am that the Rockets drafted Jabari. This man is going to fit like a glove and will be a ridiculous two-way weapon for the Rockets long term.
Defense. They’re actually playing it. It’s true.
I don’t need to repeat that the Rockets were dead last in defense last year, but… the Rockets were dead last in defense last year. Although, maybe I need to turn that frown upside down.
Sunday, however, was a different animal and you could tell immediately. The Rockets were hustling, moving quickly on rotations and closeouts.
“It’s the defense, obviously, that we’ve been concentrating on,” said Stephen Silas. “Our help was good tonight. Our multiple efforts were really good… I’m super encouraged by our intensity on the defensive end.”
Jabari was a big part of that. He made some clear mistakes, sure — I’m not going to say he was perfect — but he seemed to set the tone. Still, it’s not just Jabari — it’s clear to me the mindset of this team is in stark contrast to what we’ve seen the past two seasons. Maybe it’s the Jabari Effect or maybe Lionel Hollins is making his presence felt, but this does not look like the 2021-22 Rockets on this side of the ball.
Tari Eason is pretty much plug-and-play
I had my doubts that Tari Eason would get a ton of run in this game, but Silas played him early (note: Jae’Sean Tate sat this game out). Without having any clear plays run for him, Tari fought and scrapped for 21 points and 10 rebounds (six offensive!) in just 21 minutes. He hit 9-13 from the floor.
“My mentality never changes,” said Eason. “I’m always going to be in the right spot, get after it defensively and be one of the hardest playing dudes on the court. I think that translates at any level and I’m just going to continue to do that.”
He plays like his hair is on fire and has tremendous potential as a two-way demon. Throw him out there when things get stagnant and he’s going to make things happen.
I’ve felt that the Rockets will likely bring Tari along slowly until they figure out what the long-term solution is for guys like KJ Martin, but Operation Patience isn’t going to work if he keeps putting up lines like this. You can’t keep him to the bench or send him to the G-League.
Is Bruno Fernando the backup center?
It sure seems that way. After news broke that the Rockets had signed Fernando to a four-year, nearly $11 million deal, Bruno was the first big off the bench, subbing in for Alperen Sengun.
I’ll be honest — this really surprised me. I expected that Usman Garuba would have the clear inside track to the spot. Fernando also seemed like a good bet to be on a two-way contract, but now with this new deal, Fernando is going to be on the 15-man roster and barring a trade, someone has to be cut (Boban? Favors?) that isn’t expected to be.
But Fernando, who sources say has been terrific in camp, showed why he got that contract, finishing 3-3 from the field and was a +18 in just 11 minutes. He was very effective on rolls, capping a pair of alleyoop passes from Kevin Porter Jr. I would be lying if I said I saw this coming, but it’s a welcome development.
It’s only one preseason game, but we still can draw a lot from how Silas sees the rotation.
Bruno looking like a good bet for the backup center role was not the only surprise. KJ Martin and Daishen Nix, along with Bruno, were the first subs of the night. That indicates what we expected, that Nix is in the lead for the backup PG spot over TyTy Washington, who I would guess will run the show with the RGV Vipers early on. I like TyTy as the better bet for this spot long term, but right now the job appears to be Nix’s to lose.
But KJ is a little surprising, given he reportedly wanted out this past offseason with the Rockets slated to bring in a couple bigger prospects (Jabari and Tari) at his position.
Garrison Mathews played only five minutes. The prediction many have made that Silas would play him 15+ minutes this year is not looking so hot.